Examples of slippery slope arguments being true

Inspired by this GD thread, specifically erislover’s response:

I’m just wondering–is there an example of something like this actually happening in American history?
Or I guess any kind of history.

One that leaps to mind is what has happened with seatbelt laws. First, a law is passed which provides that not wearing a seatbelt is a secondary offense. That is, you cannot be pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt, but if you are pulled over for another violation and are found to be not wearing it, you can get a ticket. Without that provision, the law would not have passed. Several years later, seat belt violations are made primary offenses. Some would argue (I might, on a good day) that the move to making booster seats mandatory for kids up to eight years old is a further step on that continuum.

I believe the first two have happened in many states; I know that is how it went in Maryland. I don’t know in how many states the mandatory booster seat law has passed, but there is a concerted lobbying effort to make it so.

Gun control. Guns are more regulated, expensive, and harder to buy now than they have EVER been in U.S. history. But there are fanatics (no, I don’t mind using the word) who want them banned, and don’t mind doing it one law at a time if they must.

DWI laws too.

It took years of educating the public for tougher laws to be passed. A standard was set and everyone seemed happy.

Soon after that, however, people were calling for longer sentances, tougher enforcement by police, and lowering the legal limit of intoxication.

In terms of the legal limit of intoxication, it’s been steadily going down ever since it’s implementation. Personally, I think it’s headed for zero tolerance, but that’s a whole 'nother thread.

The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 didn’t actually ban marijuana, it simply required a license to sell it. The Feds just didn’t give out any licenses until they had the votes to outlaw it entirely in 1970.

I remember back in the seventies there was a push to institute mandatory drug testing for certain “critical performance” professions like missile silo commanders and air traffic controlers.

Opponents made the slippery slope argument and asked “who next?” the burger flippers?]

Proponents scoffed, made the usual references to right wing hyperbole, and asked, “Come on, do we really want the guys with their fingers on the button to be stoners?” The nation conceded and the guys in the silos started handing over little bottles of pee.

Later the military decided if they could test the air traffic controllers and the button pushers then surely other “mission critical” personel should be tested as well. A little later the testing expanded service wide.

Meanwhile city governments were contemplating, “If the army is testing their pilots, shouldn’t we be testing our bus drivers?” After all they are responsible for the lives of thousands of people.

Civilian companies soon got into the act. Figuring if the goverenment tests its key people, then why the hell shouldnt they do so.

I just saw a sign that Burger King is hiring, BTW they require a pre-employment drug test.

Lizard: << Gun control. Guns are more regulated, expensive, and harder to buy now than they have EVER been in U.S. history. But there are fanatics (no, I don’t mind using the word) who want them banned, and don’t mind doing it one law at a time if they must. >>

Damn right. My great-great-great grampa, back in the days of the Civil War, used to be able to buy small thermonuclear devices, right there in his neighborhood grocery store. They outlawed those, then they wouldn’t let us buy tanks and bazookas, hell, now I even have to register if I want something that will just take out a few city blocks – er, I mean, um, hunt deer more efficiently.

I dunno how I’d manage to hunt deer and keep my property safe from burglars if it wasn’t for my uzzi. Jest last week, I winged three deer, two burglars, a Jehovah’s witness, and six insurance salespersons.[/sarcasm]

OK, seriously, this is one where the “fanatics” (who want no controls or regulations whatsoever) use the “slippery slope” argument. If society tries to do something mild – like require a two hour waiting period, or restrictions on selling guns to children under five – the “slippery slope” argument is used against such attempts at reasonable, rational, mild legislation.

The use of these arguments by the fanatics at one side pushes the fanatics at the other side to be more extreme. If even mild measures meet resistance, why not go whole hog?

The argument that guns are “more regulated, expensive, and harder to buy now than they have EVER been in U.S. history” is fatuous.

Yes, the invention of machine guns and bazookas and H-bombs required regulation that the Founding Fathers could not have envisioned. So we do have more regulation than we had 200 years ago – but we also have a far wider variety of guns available, of more power and different technology, than at any time in our history. And there are more guns in the country than at any earlier time in our history.

Yes, Guns are more expensive “than they have EVER been”. What kind of bullshit argument is that? So is peanut butter, so are movie tickets, and so are cars. The only thing that’s less expensive than ever before is last year’s model computer or DVD player. Or do you mean that today’s semi-automatic, self-loading gun with laser sights is more expensive than a six-shooter?

Harder to buy? Sorry, Lizard, I disagree. Two hundred years ago, to buy a new gun, you had to trek into town – probably a day’s walk – to find a gunstore. The supply was vastly limited, even based on technology. Guns were larger, heavier, bulkier, and harder to carry. The gunstore of today is probably quadruple the size of the gunstore of yesteryear, with infinitely more variety and choice. It is far, far easier to obtain weapons today than it was two hundred years ago. Yes, there is more regulation, but that’s not the same thing as “harder to buy.”

In short, I dispute the use of gun control as an example of “slippery slope.” To the contrary, the use of “slippery slope” on gun control is a political maneouvering, a trick, a slight of hand used to further the arguments of the “cold-dead hands” fanatics who are out of touch with reality.

[aside]I’m not saying that total bans on guns is a good thing either, I’m saying that there are fanatics on both sides who prevent reasonable people from reaching rational compromise.[/aside]

[Edited by C K Dexter Haven on 08-24-2001 at 08:14 AM]

I realize it didn’t last, but I have to assume that, while it lasted, Prohibition kinda counts…

An example of the use of “slippery slope” has been used as an argument is with medical care in the U.S. Back in the 1960s, when Lyndon Johnson pushed for Medicare and Medicaid, the medical profession tried to argue that it was a “slippery slope” towards socialized medicine and the ruin of society, and the end of medical care. Bah. The medical profession made a fortune out of Medicare and Medicaid, often fraudulently, but nonetheless. The “slippery slope” argument was unsuccessfully employed, and there was no “slippery slope.”

The slippery slope in medical care was, I argue, exactly the opposite. The skyrocketing costs (due partly to technology change and partly to pure greed on the part of medical professionals) of medical care in the 1970s and 1980s led to “managed care.” Tbe 1990s erosion of the U.S. medical system arose because cost control was imposed at the expense of a sensible medical system. The “slippery slope” argument was used against Clinton’s health care reform concepts, and the mess we have now is the direct result of refusal to compromise.

In short, I find “slippery slope” is most often the last-ditch argument of the ultra-right (“All change is bad!”)… far more than it is a reality.

The most famous example of a slippery slope argument surely must be Pastor Martin Niemoller’s, that you had best speak out when the government takes away the liberty of the first group, because then one after another the liberty of the other groups will fall. There are about a dozen different translations and versions of what Niemoller said, but one version supposedly in the congressional record is:

Something I always wondered was are we trying to climb a slippery slope or are we skidding down a slippery slope?

We’re skidding down. The metaphor implies that if you take one little step in a certain direction, you will soon go all the way.

Was the Holocaust an example of an extreme slippery slope? There must have been some starting place, such as people being required to note whether they were Jews on job applications or something like that.

How about income taxes? For 140 years, our country didn’t have any. It was unconstitutional. Some congressional session in the 1870’s (1876?) was mocked as the “billion dollar congress” for spending that much. Then comes the 16th amendment, and suddenly the government is taking nearly half your income if you’re in the top tax bracket (and it used to be much higher, IIRC). Now a billion dollars is a rounding error in the latest gazillion dollar bill.

Libertarians and socialists (and all those in between) will of course have different interpretations as to whether this has been a Good Thing or a Bad Thing, but it can’t be denied that giving the government that 1 inch has allowed them to take much more.

I was hoping this could stay in GQ, but it’s more of a debate now. I suppose it was inevitable.

moderator, GQ

Wow, I’m not even going to try to count the straw men and extremes in THAT post. I thought political rhetoric and that type of B.S. belonged in Great Debates, not in General Questions. And from an administrator, no less. Shame on you! :smiley:

I’ll answer your (rather weak, IMO) point, but I’ll do it here so Manhattan doesn’t stomp my guts out for debating in his forum.

I don’t see how the income tax was a slippery slope. First we didn’t have an income tax, then, in 1916, we had one. No slope, just one big step.

Of course the rates on the tax have changed since 1916, but that can and could be done on any tax. Nor does the change in tax rates seem to have been particularly slippery; they have been alternately cut and raised many times.

In addition, the police have more tools to “fight” this, too. In many states police now set up “sobriety checkpoints,” stopping every car that happens down that road. I suppose the final step is the installation of a breathalyzer in every automobile.

Even before I saw this post, I was considering Prohibition as an example of the fallacy of the slippery slope argument. The slippery slope argument is an attempt to sway people by predicting the future. Miss Cleo notwithstanding, it’s not possible.

The temperance movement ultimately resulted in alcohol being readily available to almost any adult on almost every street corner in the U.S.

Many good examples of laws moving slowly in one direction have been given in this thread. There are also plenty of examples of laws which were reversed, or ultimately lead in the opposite direction (Jim Crow laws in the South, Sunday blue laws, content codes for movies and television). Of course, in hindsight, you can always point to the “slippery slope” of restrictions being relaxed. But in hindsight it’s always going to look as if what’s happening now is a result of what went before.

The bottom line is that some laws lead to other laws stacked on top of each other, and some laws turn out to be bad ideas and are abandoned. There are slippery slopes on both sides of the mountain.